Cordiality and Hints of Tension as Fight Night Approaches

Photos: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

Tom Loeffler chuckled at Wednesday's press conference as he introduced Gennady Golovkin as the A-Side' of Saturday's middleweight title fight – a pointed reference to the tension between Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez over that same phrase when they met here at Madison Square Garden last month. But the Kazakh's promoter knows what it's like to be on the other side of the equation at the Mecca of Boxing; so too does Golovkin's trainer Abel Sanchez, although the fortunes of their respective 'B-side' fighters varied greatly.

Loeffler was manager of featherweight Kevin Kelley when the "Flushing Flash" was the chosen opponent for the U.S. debut of Naseem Hamed in 1997; after a seven-minute wait while Hamed made his way to the ring, Kelley knocked the Brit down three times in less four rounds, but was dropped hard three times himself en route to a stoppage loss. Six years previously, Sanchez was the trainer of "Terrible" Terry Norris when Sugar Ray Leonard unadvisedly dropped down to junior middleweight to take on the younger, faster fighter and was soundly thrashed over 12 rounds.

There's been plenty of water under the bridge since then for all concerned, of course, but it seems safe to say that, even for the defeated Kelley and certainly for the victorious Norris, those Garden nights shine brightly among the memories of their careers. Of course, the venue alone, even the World's Most Famous Arena, does not a great fight make; nor is a storied site a prerequisite for an electric event. Terence Crawford and the people of Omaha underlined that latter point just a few weeks ago; and, as Golovkin's opponent Daniel Geale told Inside HBO Boxing this week, "it doesn't matter if it's someone's backyard or the Mecca of Boxing, I'm going to do my thing." Or, as heavyweight Bryant Jennings – who fights Mike Perez in the co-main event – put it: "I could be fighting in a cave 1,000 feet below sea level; the ring's still going to be there."

Even so, to headline at the Garden is to perform on the biggest of boxing stages, and for the winner of both of Saturday's televised fights, victory will almost certainly mean a launch pad to even bigger and better things. It is therefore to the credit of all involved that Loeffler could joke about A-sides safe in the knowledge that nobody involved would take umbrage, or that Jennings could say complimentary things about Perez even as he promised victory.

Of course, the presence of goodwill doesn't in any way equate to the absence of ambition, and as Saturday night grows ever closer, the tension rises and so does the bluster. "What is good about Jennings?" asked Perez rhetorically at a Friday morning meeting between fighters and the HBO broadcast team. "I don't know. I see nothing." Jennings countered that, "I have a size advantage, I have a reach advantage. I have an advantage, period." Even Golovkin – who smilingly acknowledged that "I am a gentleman outside the ring" – got in on the act. "I have a predator instinct," he said. "It's inside. I feel it inside. Killer instinct. I see blood, I wait … and then I finish him."

By the time the four fighters stepped on the scales to weigh in on Friday afternoon, the niceties seemed fully dispensed with: Jennings and Perez standing nose to nose, Golovkin and Geale staring coldly into each other's eyes. But then each pair broke apart, each boxer shook his opponent's hand, and they took different exits from the stage, away from each other's sight until Saturday night, when they will look at each other across the ring, the bell will ring, and they will fight.

The weights from Madison Square Garden:

Gennady Golovkin: 159.8 lbs.

Daniel Geale: 159.2 lbs.

Bryant Jennings: 222.6 lbs.

Mike Perez: 242.2 lbs.


With a Title Shot on the Line, Jennings and Perez Have Questions to Answer First

Photos: Ed Mulholland/Will Hart

Photos: Ed Mulholland/Will Hart

By Nat Gottlieb

In the co-featured bout of Saturday night's World Championship Boxing card at 9:30 PM, two unbeaten heavyweight contenders on the verge of a title fight will step into the ring in what should be an all-action affair with much at stake. Bryant Jennings vs. Mike Perez has the potential to be one of the best heavyweight fights in recent memory. But despite their stellar credentials, each fighter brings some heavy-duty question marks with them into the ring. The answers will go a long way toward bringing some clarity as to who will eventually take over the world title that Vitali Klitschko vacated.

Perez, a standout Cuban amateur who defected to Ireland in 2007, seemed to be on the verge of stardom when he took on another unbeaten heavyweight from Russia, Magomed Abdusalamov in November of last year. The fight proved to be thunderous brawl. Although Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs) won a relatively close unanimous decision, his triumph was dampened when the Russian later was diagnosed with significant brain damage that has left him severely disabled.

Perez was shaken by the outcome, and still refuses to talk about it. From his silence comes speculation that Perez might never be the same boxer again. The speculation only escalated after Perez's next fight, barely two months later. Taking on heavy underdog Carlos Takam at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Perez looked nothing like the wrecking machine he had been in his previous 20 fights, and escaped with a lackluster majority draw.

Longtime boxing writer, William Trillo, who has seen several of Perez's fights, was ringside in Montreal for the Cuban's bout with Takam and says he "looked tentative about letting his punches fly. He wouldn't be the first fighter to go downhill after beating a guy into a comatose state. It's a shame. He was on the verge of superstardom."

The questions surrounding Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs) are of a different nature. He came to boxing relatively late, at the age of 24. Like a lot of late starters, Jennings was involved in other sports. At Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia, he played football, basketball, ran the 200 meters and threw the shot put. After graduation, Jennings took a job as a mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia to support his fiancé and young son – a job he still works at in between training for fights.

One benefit of his participation in other sports is that Jennings is an unusually athletic heavyweight whose style more resembles fighters from the lower weight divisions. In addition to moving well in the ring, he has excellent hand speed and a strong jab helped by his exceptionally long reach – at 84 inches, it's three inches longer than Wladimir Klitschko's. He is also that less common heavyweight today with a sculpted body (sort of the anti-Chris Arreola).

The downside to his late start is he is still something of a work in progress. His trainer, Fred Jenkins recently said: "People need to know that Bryant Jennings is still learning how to fight. On his skill level, he's at a B working on a B+. Each fight is a learning experience for him."

Jennings' promoter Gary Shaw says he would compare his boxer, who is 6'2", to a certain former heavyweight champion. "He reminds me of Evander Holyfield in terms of his athleticism, although he didn't have the amateur experience Holyfield had," Shaw says. "I consider him a small heavyweight, like Holyfield. But both fight bigger than their size." Worth noting is that while Holyfield was a half inch taller, his reach was just 78 inches, six shorter than Jennings'.

In his last fight, Jennings faced Artur Szpilka, an undefeated Polish boxer who had beaten a mediocre string of opponents. Although he scored a 10th round knockout, Jennings didn't look as sharp and crisp as he usually does – a fact that could be attributed to ring rust.

After a breakout year in 2012, in which he fought five times on national TV, Jennings had just one fight in 2013, due to promotional problems that were resolved when Shaw bought out his contract last year. When he entered the ring against Szpilka, it was just his second fight in two years. "Everybody has ring rust," Shaw says. "This time when he fights I guarantee you he won't be rusty."

But Jennings may face another obstacle. He was originally scheduled to fight Perez on May 24, but the Cuban sustained a shoulder injury while training and the bout had to be postponed until July 26. Jennings has been in the gym since April, could he be affected by overtraining?

Come fight night, there will be answers to those questions, and a new contender for the heavyweight title.

Golovkin Latest to Take His Bow at the Garden

Evander Holyfield lands a left jab against Lionel Byarm in his professional debut at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 1984  (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

Evander Holyfield lands a left jab against Lionel Byarm in his professional debut at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 1984  (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

By Kieran Mulvaney

After two outings at the Madison Square Garden Theater – a January 2013 stoppage of Gabriel Rosado and a thumping of Curtis Stevens in November that same year – Gennady Golovkin takes his bow on Saturday in the Garden's "big room," the arena that has hosted some of the world's greatest fighters (and arguably history's biggest fight) during its prestigious history. In fact, all four fighters on HBO's World Championship Boxing card are making their MSG debuts; heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez have also both fought and won at the Garden Theater before, while Golovkin opponent Daniel Geale is competing for the first time in New York and only the second time in the United States.

The circumstances under which some of the sport's more celebrated names have made their first Garden appearance vary widely, as do their subsequent career arcs. The following is just a sampling of famous fighters who have enjoyed memorable nights at the world's most famous arena. Golovkin, Geale, Jennings and Perez will all be hoping to follow in their footsteps.

Muhammad Ali

The record shows that Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, first fought at Madison Square Garden in his eleventh pro fight, against Sonny Banks on February 10, 1962. (That debut began inauspiciously, as Banks dropped Ali in the first round before being dropped himself in the second and stopped in the fourth.) He returned the following year to outpoint Doug Jones, and in 1967, he defeated Zora Folley to defend his world heavyweight title for the last time before being forced into fistic exile. But those three contests were all at the previous incarnation of the Garden, which since 1925 had stood on the west side of 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. That's sixteen blocks north of the MSG's most recent iteration, which opened in 1968 and where Ali fought twice. The first occasion was the second fight of his comeback, a fifteenth round stoppage of Oscar Bonavena, and his subsequent outing was the epic challenge of Joe Frazier that has gone down in history as 'The Fight of the Century.'

Photo Credit: Anthony Neste

Photo Credit: Anthony Neste

Evander Holyfield

As a member of the hugely successful 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team, Holyfield fought at the Garden in his first professional contest – on a card with fellow Olympians and professional debutants Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Virgil Hill, Mark Breland and Tyrell Biggs – on November 15 later that year. "I'm fighting against a guy who's Philadelphia state champion," Holyfield recalled almost 30 years later. "This guy looks just like Joe Louis and he was already a champ. He had 12 fights already and I ain't had no fights. So I realized that I'm supposed to win, so I guess I'll go in there … and win." And so he did, via six-round decision. Holyfield didn't return to the Garden until 1996, when he stopped Bobby Czyz in his last outing before meeting Mike Tyson.

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Lennox Lewis

Lewis fought three times at the Garden, and all three occasions were memorable. He made his MSG debut while rebuilding his championship bona fides following his shocking 1994 KO loss to Oliver McCall. His opponent, on May 10, 1996, was the durable veteran Ray Mercer, who gave him a torrid time in a terrific fight that Lewis won by split decision. There were plenty ringside who thought the Brit was a little fortunate to escape with the win that day, but there were plenty more who felt he was outright robbed the next time he fought in the arena, when he somehow left with nothing more than a draw after seemingly dominating Holyfield in their heavyweight unification bout. There was no doubt about the outcome in his third and final Garden outing, however, when he bounced Michael Grant off the canvas several times before finally stopping him in the second round in April 2000.

Naseem Hamed

The flashy featherweight made only one appearance at MSG, a mouth-watering December 1997 clash with New Yorker Kevin Kelley, but what an appearance it was. His ring entrance – beginning with shadow dancing and ending with a forward somersault over the top rope – lasted seven minutes, which wasn't much less than the duration of the fight itself. The fight may have been brief, but it was spectacular: Hamed was down in the first, touched his glove to the canvas for a knockdown in the second, then bounced back to knock down Kelley in that same round. In the fourth he touched the canvas again, but decked Kelley with hard punches on two separate occasions in that frame, the second time hard enough that Kelley couldn't beat the count. "What we just saw was the Hagler-Hearns of featherweight fighting," enthused HBO's Larry Merchant.

Photo Credit: Richard Corman

Photo Credit: Richard Corman

Felix Trinidad

Trinidad's Garden debut – against Australian Troy Waters on August 23, 1997 – was over almost as soon as it began, the Puerto Rican dropping his foe twice and stopping him in round one. By this time, he was already closing in on superstardom, and would come one step closer with his next Garden outing, a dominant twelve-round decision against fellow future Hall-of-Famer Pernell Whitaker. More sensational, arena-rocking victories followed – against William Joppy in 2001 and Ricardo Mayorga in 2004 – but it was also at the Garden that he suffered his most high-profile defeat, against Bernard Hopkins in September 2001. The arena was also the site of his final fight; flabby and faded, he was easily outpointed by Roy Jones Jr. in January 2008.

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Miguel Cotto

Who could have known, when then-junior welterweight Cotto defeated Muhammad Abdullaev on June 11, 2005, that it would be the beginning of one of the closest relationships between fighter and venue in modern boxing? Cotto dominated his former amateur foe en route to a ninth-round TKO, the first of nine outings (so far) at the arena; the best of them – perhaps the greatest night of his sensational career –  may have been the most recent, when he thumped Sergio Martinez to seize the middleweight crown in June. If all goes according to Golovkin's plan Saturday night, we could soon see a unification fight between the two middleweight champs in the near future – and one iconic venue comes to mind.

Watch: The Golovkin-Geale Press Conference

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney reports from the Golovkin vs. Geale and Jennings vs. Perez final press conference in New York. Golovkin vs. Geale and Jennings vs. Perez happens Sat., July 26 at 9:30pm ET/PT on HBO.


Golovkin, the Happy Gladiator, Lights up Broadway

Photo Credit: Will Hart

Photo Credit: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

Gennady Golovkin is no real-life Rocky. The middleweight champ kicks Rocky's ass and steals his gym locker.

As part of the pre-fight build-up for this Saturday's HBO World Championship Boxing double-header from Madison Square Garden, Golovkin made a cameo appearance in "Rocky: The Musical" on Wednesday night, adding Broadway performer to his résumé because apparently, fighting at the World's Most Famous Arena isn't enough New York for one week. And in the scene, he really did take Rocky's usual gym locker. He didn't kick his ass, though; it seems safe to assume that he probably just smiled.

Golovkin is something of a smiling assassin; it's a key part of his charm. Ask him how he feels about fighting in the main room at Madison Square Garden and he smiles. Ask him about his family, his life, and he smiles. Ask him how he is able to hit people so very, very hard and he smiles about that too. And shrugs a little.

Two nights earlier, as he welcomed a camera crew into his hotel suite and prepared to answer a battery of questions in his impressively improved English, Golovkin was sitting on his bed watching 'Gladiator.' The mind immediately began considering just how many kinds of awesome it would be if he ended a fight by holding his arms out wide like Russell Crowe and asking of the crowd, "Are you not entertained?" But he isn't really the kind to indulge us with melodramatic gestures. It's not how he rolls.

Alas, "Rocky: The Musical" will not be adorning the Great White Way much longer; it was announced just last week that the show would be closing in August. Perhaps it should have co-opted Golovkin into the cast earlier, because his show, in contrast, seems set to keep on going – in front of ever-larger audiences – for some time yet.

Unless, of course, Daniel Geale can rewrite the script on Saturday night. He might be capable of doing so, though he is no more boastful about his chances than is Golovkin. But whereas the Kazakh champion is seemingly constantly happy and outgoing, the Australian challenger is quiet and introverted, almost giving off the air that he's slightly embarrassed about the attention and sorry to be taking up everyone's time.

In fact, the thought occurred during Wednesday's final pre-fight press conference that this is one of those fight cards in which it is genuinely possible and easy to root for every one of the fighters, given their personalities and back stories. Golovkin, the friendly fan favorite recovering from his father's recent and untimely death. Geale, the unassuming warrior who is dedicating his fight to mother, who is battling cancer. On the undercard, Mike Perez, the heavyweight who exiled himself from Cuba and sought refuge in Ireland. And his opponent, Bryant Jennings, who wiles away the time before his turn at the press conference podium by tweeting out messages of inspiration.

One way or the other, the good guy will win. Whatever the outcome, this show will have a happy ending.

Watch: One-on-One with Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Geale

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Geale before the two face off Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Golovkin vs. Geale happens Saturday at 9:30 PM ET/PT on HBO:

CompuBox Analysis: Golovkin vs. Geale

By CompuBox

Miguel Cotto, thanks to his sensational KO win over Sergio Martinez, may be the lineal middleweight champion of the world but most experts believe WBA titlist Gennady Golovkin is the best 160-pound boxer walking the earth. His .897 KO percentage is the best among 160-pound champions in boxing history and he comes into Saturday's fight with former IBF king Daniel Geale on a 16-fight knockout string.

One can make the case that Geale may well be the best fighter Golovkin has yet faced. The aborigine from Australia sports fast hands, quick feet, sharp combinations and his own championship resume as he won not one, but two middleweight belts via split decision in Germany against German favorites Sebastian Sylvester and Felix Sturm. Also, unlike Golovkin, Geale knows how to pace himself over a long fight, for he holds a 14-0 lead in fights that have gone 11 rounds or more.

Will Geale's quality halt Golovkin's reign of terror or will "GGG" once again stand for "Going, Going, Gone?"  GGG, an 8-1 favorite, ranks #2 on CompuBox's plus/minus with a +17 rating, second only to Money Mayweather's +25 rating.  His 12 jabs landed per round rank #1 among CompuBox's Categorical Leaders.  GGG lands 28 total punches per round, second only to Leo Santa Cruz's 32 landed per round.

Statistical factors that may prove vital in terms of the outcome include:

Pick Your Poison: No matter what the method, Golovkin is a machine bent on ultimate destruction. He can dispose of opponents quickly -- 15 of his 26 knockouts have occurred within three rounds -- he can wreck them with extreme volume, torture them with extraordinary accuracy or grind them down with steady punishment.

His recent fights have showcased all four methods. His last outing against Osumanu Adama (KO 7) was methodical but effective. Averaging 65.5 punches per round, Golovkin worked an effective jab (28.4 thrown/7.1 connects per round) in setting up knockdowns in rounds one, six and seven. He out-landed Adama 128-44 overall, 46-17 jabs and 82-27 power and while he wasn't as precise as usual (30% overall, 25% jabs, 34% power) he was outstandingly elusive for a risk-taking fighter (12% overall, 7% jabs, 20% power).

The Curtis Stevens bout was Golovkin at his best. His 99.2 punch-per-round attack was diverse (51.2 jabs/13.5 connects; 47.6 power/23.1 connects) and crushing (293-97 overall, 108-23 jabs, 185-74 power; 37% overall, 26% jabs, 49% power). Stevens, held to 37.9 punches per round, still managed to break through from time to time (32% overall, 20% jabs, 39% power) but in the last three rounds Golovkin prevailed 156-40 overall and 110-35 power, including a 71 of 144 round in the eighth (56 of 101 power) that persuaded Stevens to stay on his stool. The 144 punches in the seventh were the third

most ever recorded in a middleweight fight and the 71 connects trailed only Mike McCallum's 93 in round five vs. Nicky Walker in 1991.

The Matthew Macklin bout showed both his short-term devastation (KO 3) and his tremendous precision when his volume drops off. Averaging 47.3 punches per round, Golovkin landed 50% overall, 48% jabs and 52% power while taking just 25% overall, 11% jabs and 38% power.

Golovkin's versatility presents a tremendous problem for Geale, who will hope his speed and savvy will give the Kazakh enough different looks to throw off his wondrous game.

Changing His Game: In winning titles in Germany against Sylvester and Sturm, Geale squeezed out every possible point by setting a torrid pace (89.8 per round vs. Sylvester, 73.6 vs. Sturm) and creating massive connect bulges (238-143 overall, 182-88 power vs. Sturm; 182-111 overall, 141-52 power vs. Sylvester).

In his three recent fights, however, Geale has jettisoned the volume in favor of accuracy and increased power. In avenging a previous loss to Anthony Mundine, Geale averaged 57.5 punches per round but built connect bulges of 208-141 overall and 147-71 power by landing at a noticeably higher rate (30%-22% overall, 20%-17% jabs, 38%-31% power). In losing his IBF belt to Darren Barker, Geale scored a body-shot knockdown in round six that would have stopped most other fighters and while he was more accurate (37%-34% overall, 25%-17% jabs, 42%-42% power) and produced a stronger 12th round (28-24 overall 25-19 power), Barker's second-half surge helped forge numerical leads of 292-259 overall and 244-211 power as well as the split decision victory.

In pounding Garth Wood during his most recent outing, Geale (who averaged just 42.3 punches per round to Wood's 41) shelved the jab (11.7 thrown/2.0 connects per round), turned aggressive (30.7 power punches thrown/13.7 landed per round) and scored knockdowns in rounds one, five and six in registering the stoppage between rounds six and seven. He out-landed Wood 94-41 overall and 82-29 power, plus he was the far more precise fighter (37%-17% overall, 17%-14% jabs, 45%-18% power).

Prediction: If Geale is to upset Golovkin, he must return to the style that served him so well as an underdog against Sylvester and Sturm -- high volume, peppery combinations and sage movement. Unlike the comedy game show "Whose Line Is It Anyway," the points do matter for Geale. That, however, will only delay the inevitable. Golovkin is at the peak of his powers and Geale doesn't have the physical strength or the one-punch KO power to stop the steamroller. It will take a while, but Golovkin will register his 17th consecutive knockout. 

Watch: Jennings vs. Perez Preview

Get to know Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez and preview their upcoming heavyweight showdown.

Golovkin vs. Geale and Jennings vs. Perez happens Sat., July 26 at 9:30pm ET/PT on HBO